16 April 2013

The Bughouse Affair - Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

I’ve mentioned my library’s 7-Day Shelf before, usually to bemoan my inability to return books on time; library fines are an actual line-item in my (mental) monthly budget. (Who has time for a real budget? I’m too busy spending money I don’t have!)

I did a quick sweep of the 7-day shelf at one point and came home with this GEM, but I’ll admit to the following mental process:

1) Wow, that cover is really awful.
2) What a terrible title.
3) Pronzini? Ahhhahahah!
4) *reads the first paragraph of the inner flap * Set in Victorian-era San Francisco! Yes, I’m reading this.

I may have been a leeeeetle biased going in. But nothing prepared me for the accuracy of my first impressions.

Except vast experience in Being Right, of course.

Story! Let’s start with John Quincannon, Male Lead, and his views on his attractive-but-widowed business partner:

“She was not a beautiful woman, but at thirty-one she possessed a mature comeliness that melted his hard Scot’s heart.”

That, my friends, is what some assholes  call a “neg” – the ostensible compliment that hides a criticism. Also, the descriptor “Scot” shows up 3 more times in the first chapter, just in case you didn’t catch it the first time around.

Other things you might have missed because you are stone-blind and have the mental capacity of a thimble:

  • A mental map of 1890-something San Francisco. Don’t worry, this book will provide you with one! “Quincannon walked to Terrific Street, as Pacific Avenue, the district’s main artery, was called, turned into an alley, and entered a large building mid-block.” Good job making me not care at all about your whorehouse scene, Authors, because I’m too busy trying to navigate your commas.
  • A definition of American Victorian slang, such as “yegg.” 
  • Murderous hatpin-using pickpockets 
  • Sherlock Holmes in the flesh
Sadly not this flesh.
Let’s define the word “yegg.” OH WAIT, we can’t, because unlike other, more obvious words (::coughbughousecough::) that are used in context over and over again – and defined on page 245 just in case you missed it – this one word is never explained.

Moving on to the hatpin-wielding pickpocket. This girl’s MO is to find a likely-looking victim in a crowd, jab him viciously with a hatpin, then cut his purse. Okay, I’ll buy that.  But what I will not buy is that your victims wouldn’t know the difference between an attack of biliousness and a jab with a sharp, supremely unhygienic object, to the point where a guy would die in short order of what he thought was a stomach problem. How deep did can one poke a hatpin without someone noticing blood?

It turns out that Sherlock wouldn’t have been a surprise if I’d read more than the first paragraph of the bookflap. And to be honest, I’d probably have put it back; after my experience with Death Comes to Pemberley, I’ve given up on pastiche.

One final quote because I just. can’t. stand it:

“The open-air California Market, known far and wide as San Francisco’s ‘entrepot of foods,’ ran for an entire block from Pine to California streets between Montgomery and Kearney.”

Oh good. Next time I’m up there, I’ll be sure to think about how everyone in the Middle Ages used to know what an “entrepot” was.  [Spoiler: it’s a trading post.]

The worst part about this book is that the authors have not only 40+ years of writing experience and 35+ published novels between them, they also have a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. EACH.

You’d think they would know how to set up some tension, create interesting characters without having to borrow them from somewhere else, and maybe add a plot twist so that it wasn’t the wife who did it.

Are you kidding me?


3 of 11 Poorly Plotted Pastiches*

*Don't get all excited, Authors. That third star is only because I got to spend an hour downloading Sherlock gifs. 

13 April 2013

Harry Potter HFriday - That Time We All Wept

I actually considered skipping this section and jumping straight to book 6, but no. I am a glutton for punishment and also perhaps the sliiiightest bit OCD.

There’s a rollicking debate going on over at Megs’s blog about whether Harry was dumb about the 2-way mirror or not. I fall on the side of that-is-a-terrible-plot-device-designed-only-to-make-me-feel-EVEN-MORE-SHITTY-JK, whatever side that is. Because really all it does is the aforementioned and make Harry feel like it’s even MORE his fault that Sirius is no more. Guilt Trip, party for two, someone carry Dumbledore’s bags, please.

But here’s a thing I don’t get. Grimauld Place is on the Floo network and can’t be monitored  because Dumbledore is the secret keeper for the house’s location. So why doesn’t Harry just… go all the way to the house and look for Sirius? Climbing the stairs shouting is going to be way more effective than just sticking your head out of the fire and shouting, right? And then if the lookouts at Hogwarts Hogwarts Hoggy Warty Hogwarts hear Umbridge is coming, they just join Harry at Grimauld place. Phineas Nigellus can come back to the house and tell them when the coast is clear, and if Sirius isn’t at HQ, they could just take the Floo network to the Ministry. Because your whole body can travel by Floo.

I should be in charge of everything.
I feel the need to point out that back when we were all reading this for the first time and we didn’t know who was going to die, the whole lead-up to the duel in the arch room was SO SCARY. Leaving Ron with those brains? AGH!  There was a moment – probably less than a moment because I was reading so fast – when I was sure Hermione was dead. And then Dumbledore shows up and he. is. pissed. and you think, Oh, it’s all going to be all right and then Bellatrix hits Sirius and you’re all, he’ll be okay! It was just a stunner and McGonagall took 4 of those to the chest and she'll be okay (eventually aggghhh)!

And then he’s standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Again.

There are discussions upon discussions we could have about how True Hero Archetypes have to have someone - usually a Guardian - die before they can be dedicated to their Cause in the right way, and how Sirius's death does this for Harry in a way that Dumbledore's will not. This pattern is borne out by literature and myth and, all things considered, JK handled it beautifully.

I would just like to close with the happy images of McGonagall lending Peeves her walking stick to drum Umbridge off of Hogwarts property, and of Neville and his mimbulus mimbletonia-stroking.

Neville, you are so uncomfortably attractive. 

09 April 2013

Who Could That Be at This Hour? - Lemony Snicket

Have you read A Series of Unfortunate Events? You should. It’s clever and fun and sad and lovely all at the same time. I’m not generally a huge fan of things aimed at middle-grade kids, but for Lemony Snicket, I will always make an exception. Which explains why I snatched this book off of the 7-Day Loan shelf right in front of some middle-grade child and ran away, cackling with glee.

I love you, Ru.

Who Could That Be at This Hour? starts with our Lemony having just graduated from school at the tender age of 12. One of the most brilliant things about this author is his willingness to leave large swathes of information out of the text, thereby leaving them up to the reader to fill in. He fills the void that was created when Harry Potter ended; you know the one – the thing where I learned to grasp at every tiny shred of information like a murder victim snatching at her attacker’s hairs to provide some clue as to whodunit.  

Story! Snicket has reason of his own for choosing S. Theodora Markson – dead last on the list of 52 - as his official chaperone, but to his great surprise she takes him out of town to a village called Stain’d-by-the-Sea, where the sea itself is no longer nearby and the major revenue comes from rapidly drying pockets of octopus ink.

The story gets odder and more entertaining from there, and as always I’m disarmed by the word-play and sly references:

“There’s an easy method for finding someone when you hear them scream. First get a clean sheet of paper and a sharp pencil. Then sketch out nine rows of fourteen squares each. Then throw the piece of paper away and find whoever is screaming so you can help them. It is no time to fiddle with paper.”

“Do you know how to pick a lock?”
“Not really,” I said, “I received a grade of Incomplete. I know how to throw a rock through a window.”

“I’m reminded of a book my father used to read me,” she said. “A bunch of elves and things get into a huge war over a piece of jewelry that everybody wants but no body can wear.”
“I’ve never liked that kind of book,” I replied. “There’s always a wizard who’s very powerful but not very helpful.”

In conclusion, Lemony, I would like to go to your school and have adventures with you. And I promise not to steal your weird little statue.

7.5 of 11 Typewriters on the Stairs

05 April 2013

Harry Potter HFriday - Part the Twins

I have some Very Serious Stuff to discuss this week, so let’s get the important issue on the table right away, shall we?

"...he bit hard on his pillow to stop himself making a noise."

Aaaaand now I don’t know where to go from there. Every time I read it, I just dissolve into giggles.

Time for some bullet points? Probably.

  •          Oh my god, I love how the McGonagall/Unbridge dynamic grows. At the beginning, McGonagall is all, “tread lightly, Potter, have a biscuit!” and then McGonagall finds herself doing this:

Probably high on the list of Top Ten Things Minerva Never Thought She'd Do
  • Neville is getting better at hexing and jinxes and magic! AND SEXINESS.

More of this, please?

  • Dumbledore will not – what is the phrase? - go quietly. Take THAT, Fudge!
  • Teenagers are, by definition, idiots. The degree of idiocy is the only thing that changes from kid to kid. I feel bad for Snape the Teenager, but dude, it’s been 15+ years and if you haven’t figured out that teenagers are pretty much ALL vicious little snotrags, then you aren’t paying attention at your job. Plus, the guy who tortured you is DEAD and his friends scattered and poor or housebound, so maybe get a little perspective eh? Because it would really serve the OotP’s purpose better if you, Severus Snape, could not be a dick to Harry for FIVE MINUTES.
  • And then there's another McGonagall/Umbridge altercation during Harry's career advice meeting and by the time McGonagall loses it I'm just so incredibly happy.
  • But now we come to the crux of my issue, which is... the Twins, and how it's a little embarrassing how their mayhem makes me flush a bit. 

And how Peeves bows to them at the end and they ride their brooms off into the sunset and I just...

Might go do a little pillow biting of my own. 

02 April 2013

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

I’m pretty sure I thought this book and The Book of Blood and Shadow were the same for a long time. Oops.

SO! There's a story, and it's not that one! Alina is an orphan and a soldier in the Border Wars army, along with her best friend Mal who, of course, never notices that she’s a girl with feeeeeeelings. Specifically, feelings for him. Men!

Good call, Liz. 

There’s this thing in their homeland called The Fold, and it’s basically a wide piece of hell full of darkness and scary harpy-like creatures that have been known on occasion – every occasion – to try to kill anything human that tries to cross it. Alina’s division tries this journey because the coast is on the other side and it’s not really clear why, but during the battle Mal gets hurt and Alina’s long-hidden power presents itself: she can push back the darkness, possibly eventually enough to destroy The Fold and reunite the country.  Hurrah! But she is only a teenager and already behind in her studies of... magic stuff... because she's been busy kicking ass instead.

And then The Darkling, whose very TITLE screams BAD GUY but does anyone notice? NO, takes her to his little palace to help her learn how to use her power at something like a school for magic people, but since she’s the only one of her kind and he’s the only one of his kind, she falls for him a little right before Alina realizes that The Darkling is an anagram for King Lard (not really but it is) and runs away because he wants to control her. Seriously, MEN!  Always trying to make the ladies put their lights under bushels!

Alina runs away and meets up with Mal in the woods, there’s a bit about a stag with magical antlers, and then the end happens which I won’t spoil for you because I’m nice.

The front of this book trumpets, “Unlike anything I’ve ever read.” – Veronica Roth, Author of Divergent. On the flip side, if goodreads is to be believed Bardugo did about .35 hours of research into Russian Naming Conventions and Onion Domes before basing her world squarely in Mother Russia + Magicland. Here’s the thing: if Ms. Roth hasn’t ever read anything remotely like this before, then she doesn’t read enough, although that seems to have worked out pretty well for her own writing since she's wicked popular and all (MORE ON THAT LATER...). A second thing is: goodreads people are ridiculous. It’s a fantasy world, and while it may be based on Slavic culture, it’s pretty much the prerogative of the author to change things as she sees fit. Regular WASPy people wouldn’t be throwing a fit if the author had co-opted some Traditionally Western Stuff for her setting, so if you’re either 1) basing your knowledge of Russian culture on a fantasy novel or 2) not smart enough to figure out that this is FICTION, then you have bigger problems and should probably read a nonfiction book or Wikipedia or something.

Rant-y ran rant rant.

Anyway, this was interesting and the world was, for my money, very prettily realized and richly populated. I will pick up book 2 when the Internet starts jumping up and down about it, and I will hope for the best.

7.5 out of 11 Pseudo-Russian Patronymics